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Ron DeSantis gets the frontrunner treatment

CNN 11/30/2022 by Chris Cillizza

On Wednesday alone, two BIG articles about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were published.

The first, in The Spectator World, is a deep dive into DeSantis’ childhood and his hometown of Dunedin.

The second, written by the incomparable Mark Leibovich in The Atlantic, tries to get at who DeSantis is, really, and what makes him tick.

These twin profiles are telling – not just in what they say (more on that in a minute) – but that they were assigned. Because publications don’t commission these sorts of deep dives into people who don’t matter. They commission these pieces on people who matter very much.

What these stories reveal is that DeSantis is now getting the digging, probing and prodding that comes with being (one of) the potential frontrunners for a presidential nomination.

When you have the poll numbers – and the momentum – that DeSantis has following his convincing reelection win, these sorts of stories get written.

And they can have a major impact in how a politician is introduced to a national audience. (DeSantis himself is set to release an autobiography early next year.)

So, what do these pieces say about DeSantis?

The Spectator World one is largely favorable – coming from a conservative writer in a conservative publication – delving into where DeSantis grew up, where he went to school and what his parents are like. (The reporter briefly interacted with DeSantis’ parents, who are, perhaps understandably, shy around the media.)

The Atlantic piece is, to my mind, more revealing – perhaps a function of the fact that no one writes these sorts of profiles better than Leibovich.

The key conclusion?

“People who know [DeSantis] better and have watched him longer are skeptical of his ability to take on the former president. DeSantis, they say, is no thoroughbred political athlete. He can be awkward and plodding. And [Donald] Trump tends to eviscerate guys like that.”

Which is very interesting. Leibovich’s image of DeSantis is very different than the one the governor himself is building: A warrior against “woke” culture who has stood up to liberals and won time and again.

Of course, all of us are more nuanced than a one-dimensional view. And it’s possible DeSantis is both stiff and someone who can effectively appeal to the Republican electorate at large.

The Point: The shaping of DeSantis has begun. And how he emerges from this first vetting process could tell us a lot about just how viable he would be against Trump.

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